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Service looks to improve response with crews of three firefighters

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is aiming to improve the time its fire engines get to emergency incidents in rural areas by allowing some fire engines to be sent with three firefighters.

Currently, although the Service aims to have five firefighters on each fire engine, it allows fire engines to go with four firefighters on board. It will only send a crew of three to bin fires or small animal rescues.

The Service is looking to send a crew of three, if that’s all that’s available at an on-call fire station, to all incident types in line with practices in neighbouring Suffolk and some other fire and rescue services.

This means a fire engine could arrive at an emergency in a rural area several minutes quicker than it does now.

Chief Fire officer Chris Strickland explained: “We are always striving to improve the time it takes us to get a fire engine to the scene of an emergency from the initial 999 call. Our rural towns and villages are covered by on-call fire stations, so firefighters carry pagers, go about their daily business and if an emergency occurs in their area, their alerter goes off and they rush to the fire station to crew the fire engine.

“We struggle to recruit on-call firefighters – for a whole host of reasons – and often our rurally based fire engines are deemed ‘unavailable for use’ as there are less than four firefighters available to crew them. We therefore often send the next fully crewed fire engine that is available but that can be several miles away, increasing the time it takes for us to arrive.

“By allowing a crew of three to respond to all incident types, we can get a fire engine to incidents much quicker and the crew can either deal with the incident safely, or get everything ready to start dealing with the incident as soon as more resources arrive to make it a safe operation.”*

Chris continued: “My greatest wish is that we always have at least five firefighters available day and night at our on-call stations and it’s certainly what we will continue to strive for. We are committed to continuing our efforts to recruit more on-call firefighters and would love for more people to come forward to find out more about a rewarding role with us as an on-call firefighter. But we also have to manage the current situation and continue to look for ways to improve. This is one way we believe we can improve our service to the public by getting trained firefighters to an incident more rapidly.”

If you’re interested in becoming an on-call firefighter, you can find out more in our Careers section. You must live within a five minute travel time of an on-call fire station and be aged 18 or over. The Service is particularly looking for people who can be available in the daytime.

Group Commander Kev Andrews is in charge of the on-call service. He added: “Being an on-call firefighter is a paid role so as well as being incredibly rewarding and allowing people to give something back to their local community, it can help people financially too.

“Over the years we have suffered from industries and jobs moving out of our smaller towns, so people no longer work in the town or village where they live as was often the case. However, with home working becoming more popular since the pandemic, we are hoping this opens up greater opportunities for more people now who couldn’t previously apply as their office was out of town.”

A list of all on-call fire stations can be found in our Find A Fire Station section.


*In order for firefighters to tackle incidents safely, some risk assessments require a certain number of firefighters to be on the scene before specific actions can be carried out, for example, wearing breathing apparatus to enter a building on fire and some rescue techniques at RTCs.

Case study example

Shed fire in Kimbolton

There’s a small storage shed on fire by a shop in Kimbolton High Street. The shed is next to wooden fencing and the shop.

The local fire engine in Kimbolton has three firefighters available to jump on the fire engine and attend.

The fire service would send two fire engines to this type of incident. The next fully crewed fire engines are in St Neots and Huntingdon, 8 and 12 miles away.

Under current arrangements, the fire engine in Kimbolton is deemed unavailable as there are only three firefighters who can attend and the minimum standard is four for incidents other than bin fires and small animal rescues. The fire engines from St Neots and Huntingdon are sent and the first arrives approximately 12 minutes after the call is taken. By this time the fire has spread to the fence and is burning the facias and guttering of the shop.

The fire is put out but the shop owners face repair costs and have to close the shop while the repairs are carried out, resulting in loss of income.

Under the new system, Kimbolton is available and is sent, along with St Neots and Huntingdon. It arrives in 6 minutes and the crew is able to get water on the fire, containing it to the shed and part of the fence.

St Neots arrive within 12 minutes and help with dampening down, but the fire is largely out. Huntingdon are cancelled and turn around before they arrive as the incident has been dealt with. They are now available quicker for any incident in their own area.

By utilising the crew of three, there is less damage to the shop and therefore a much less financial burden for the shop owners. They don’t need to close their business for any repairs and therefore don’t have an income loss either.